What does someone with a sense of curiosity act like? We think of someone who seeks out new and interesting experiences. What about someone who is honest? We believe they speak their truth and act in a sincere and genuine way.
These attributes are called “character strengths” and they are the positive parts of your personality that impact how you think, feel, and behave. We all have certain traits that are admired and respected by others.
The study of strengths started in the early 2000’s, when scientists began to study character more scientifically. Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman looked across history and cultures asking questions such as:
The result was the VIA Classification of Character Strengths and Virtues, a classification of positive human traits. These scientists identified 24 character strengths that everyone has the capacity to express. Once the VIA Classification was complete, a ground-breaking strengths test, the VIA Survey, was designed specifically to measure these 24 character strengths in individuals, each strength falling under a larger category called a “virtue.”
These 24 character strengths fall into one of six virtues:
To steer psychology away from the darkness
The VIA Character Strengths are based on the principles of Positive Psychology which is defined as the study of positive traits, experiences, institutions, looking at what is best in human beings, moving the conversation to the positive rather than the view that there must be something “wrong.”
This approach reasons that by focusing on your strengths, you can develop your character, and you can have a more meaningful, happy, and successful life. Highlighting strengths can improve relationships, enhance overall health and wellbeing, and act as a buffer against roadblocks and problems.
Character strengths are different from your other personal strengths, such as your skills, talents, and interests, because they reflect who you are at your core. In fact, every person’s strengths are different, giving everyone a unique profile.
Each person who takes the VIA Survey is given a personalized report of their 24 character strengths organized into a list, with the top strengths categorized as “signature strengths” and the bottom strengths categorized as “lesser strengths.”
Common features of signature strengths (Niemiec p. 23):
With the VIA Classification, all 24 strengths matter. This means that all of the strengths have their benefits. Also, the strengths at the bottom are not considered weaknesses. The VIA Survey reveals that we have our “signature” (higher strengths), middle strengths and lesser strengths. They all make up who we are.
Character strengths can be developed. They are like seeds to nurture and grow. Some of your character strengths may grow in obvious ways and flourish; and others can be overshadowed by your more dominant strengths, like a small flower attempting to grow underneath a leafy tree. (Niemiec p. 24)
In health coaching, we use a strengths-based approach when working with clients, and the VIA Survey is a valuable tool to help clients become aware of their strengths, explore the way they show up in one’s life, and through that exploration, apply them to goal setting which can lead to action.
The process of strength spotting includes (Niemiec p. 29):
Strength spotting provides an opportunity to spotlight or give attention to one’s very best qualities, signature strengths, and how one expresses these strong qualities.
However, with all good things, there’s a risk in overdoing it. At times, we may overuse our signature strengths. Perhaps because we care so much about them, they have a tendency to appear more obvious. For example, someone with "zest" as a signature strength has a natural enthusiasm and energy for life, but could sometimes be hyperactive and controlling when zest is overused. Conversely, with our lesser strengths, we may be less adept in using them, so we may use them poorly or underuse them when triggered or stressed.
At the Functional Medicine Coaching Academy where I received my health coaching certification, the VIA Character Strengths is a core component of the curriculum. Having spent decades working with women leaders, now as a health coach I can integrate leadership development along with health and well-being.
Using Character Strengths to Move from Resilience to ROOTSilience
As the pandemic hit and so many of us were faced with unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety, I found that “resilience,” the new buzz word, simply isn’t enough to buffer us from the aggressions we are faced with, when we’re stretched beyond our limits.
And so along with my colleague, Rimi Chakraborty, a former management consultant trained in various modalities of yoga, energy healing, and mindfulness, we developed ROOTSIlience: Your Path to Wholeness.
ROOTSilience is a new word – we created this vocabulary to connect us with our whole selves. ROOTSilience takes the notion of "resilience" a step deeper, reminding us to be grounded, rooted, and able to respond to stressors from a place of security, rather than simply being reactive.
Along with taking resilience a step deeper, we took the VIA Character Strengths a step deeper to connect our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
ROOTSilience maps the VIA Character Strengths along the ancient Chakra System, categorizing the VIA Character Strengths into the seven chakras, offering a lens to look at our leadership holistically, taking into consideration our emotional, physical and mental well-being.
Chakra means “wheel,” as in “wheel of energy.” The Chakra system has existed for thousands of years and comes from the same ancient texts that gave rise to yoga and meditation. The chakras run along the Sushumna channel or central column of the spine and interestingly correspond to the nerve ganglion along our spine and tie in with the neuroendocrine system of our bodies.
When our chakras are flowing freely, we find balance in our day-to-day lives; we are healthy, able to cope naturally with the ups and downs of our existence. When our chakras are out of balance, we have a tendency toward certain negative behaviors; we even have chronic health conditions associated with this area of imbalance. If left unchecked this "dis-ease" of the flow of our energy leads to disease.
This revolutionary framework is the ROOTSilience Leadership Map
The ROOTSilience Leadership Map highlights how our strengths—and our possible overuse and underuse of them—are connected to our body, mind, and spirit, and all the ways we show up (or don’t) as a leader. This helps identify areas of focus to be most effective as a grounded leader.
The ROOTSilience Leadership Map also gives us an opportunity to reflect on any chronic emotional or physical conditions we face and how that ties into the chakra system, providing further insight into which areas we need to nurture in order to stay balanced, avoid burning out, and take proactive measures to sustain our overall health and well-being.
Just like the VIA Character Strengths Survey, this is just one “lens” and we don’t interpret this map as what’s good, bad, or wrong. Rather, we use this as an opportunity to take responsibility for our overall health and well-being.
How are you integrating your character strengths with your emotional and physical health and well-being?
As an experiment, we invite you to download your personalized ROOTSilience Leadership Map to see how your strengths show up in your life. The Map offers a holistic look at your character strengths and the ways that you are nurturing your health and wellness, and where you may need to focus your attention.
To deepen your exploration of this work, we offer the ROOTSilience Leadership Series which provides practical tools for women to lead with impact and purpose, while not burning out and destroying your health in the process.
The ROOTSilience Leadership Series is organized around the ancient Sanskrit Chakra System combining yoga and meditation; food as medicine; and conscious leadership tools through a series of online workshops, courses, and events.
The series is offered several times throughout the year. The next course begins on June 6, 2021 and runs one Sunday per month through December 12, 2021.
Participants can register for the entire course (seven workshops) or join individual workshops. By joining the full series, you’ll receive the greatest benefit because each chakra and the associated physical, mental, and emotional qualities are all connected.
Each two-hour workshop includes access to a course portal including the conscious leadership exercise we engage in during our live call, a supporting yoga or meditation practice for further practice and a recording of the live workshop including the food as medicine overview and live practice for that workshop’s chakra. For detail on the subjects covered and the dates for workshops in 2021, please visit the ROOTSilience Leadership Series.
There are many ways to integrate character strengths into your life to amplify your health and wellness. Let us know how you’re doing this!
For more on character and other health & wellness tips, follow me on Instagram @essential.wholeness.
For additional health & wellness coaches ready to support you on your journey, visit our directory and reach out to one who looks like a good fit for you!
Samantha Anderson is a national board certified health & wellness coach in Brooklyn, NY. She works with women during their menopausal journey focusing on hormones, sleep, weight gain, and brain fog, to restore balance and help women live the lives they deserve in midlife and beyond.